Giant on the move
Charles in charge: speed, momentum and centrifugal force
I’ve never met Matt Lauer from NBC but I was assured this week that I kicked his ass.
That was the consensus of several USA Cycling experts when I finally rolled off the Olympic velodrome after a gut-wrenching but exhilarating ride.
When Nick Legan, the team mechanic who was riding along with me, told me I was going much higher on the banks than Lauer had when he tried out the track a few days ago, I decided I should go even higher.
I screamed as I reached the top of the steep bank of the Olympic velodrome, then felt the air swish through my helmet as I pedaled around the curve and pushed hard along the straightaway.
I heard someone yell, “Up, up, up, Debbie!” so I powered my way up as high as I could along the next curve, swallowed the urge to scream again, and pedaled even harder to make sure I stayed upright.
I had always wondered how the cyclists managed to stay upright while riding on the steep curves of the velodrome. So I decided to give it a try and USA Cycling obliged by getting approval from velodrome officials and loaning me a bike, a helmet and, most important, expert advice.
“The biggest thing to remember on the track is, it’s all about speed, momentum and centrifugal force,” said Legan, who rode along with me after the last athletes left the track after practice.
“The faster you go, the safer it actually is. That’s how you’re going to stay up on the banking. Trust your tyres. They will stick to this,” he said of the wooden track. “So you’re not going to just fall down.”
Despite his assurances I really was scared. As I clicked my cleats into the pedals and held on to the railing before pushing off, I looked up at the steep banks and just hoped I would not humiliate myself in front of Olympic coaches and officials who were milling about.
When I finally headed off the track the team soigneur, Viggo Christensen, who had been teasing me before I set off and clearly had very low expectations, paid me the biggest compliment I could imagine.
He came over, shook my hand and said, “I’m impressed. It was excellent. It was way beyond good.”
Then team chief Pat McDonough told me I had “kicked Matt Lauer’s ass”.